Laura Lundquist

(Missoula Current) After getting public pushback, the Bureau of Land Management has extended the comment period on its Clark Fork Face logging project.

After originally allowing only 11 days for public comment, the Missoula office of the BLM has extended the public comment period of its Clark Fork Face environmental assessment until Jan. 15, 2023, instead of end-of-business on Dec. 16.

The extension was prompted by the Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force hiring an attorney to send a letter to BLM Field Manager Erin Carey on Dec. 12, asking for the extension.

In his letter, attorney Timothy Bechtold said an 11-day comment period was unreasonable, “given the nature and circumstances of the project.”

“As you know, this project received a Likely to Adversely Affect determination from the
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on grizzly bear and lynx, both listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Moreover, the project is inconsistent with the NCDE Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy to which BLM is a signing partner and with which BLM has stated it will comply,” Bechtold wrote.

Bechtold pointed out that the BLM website had no mention of the project or the ability to comment and no scoping for the project had occurred in Missoula. The BLM held scoping meetings attended by 14 people in Clinton and Drummond.

Bechtold also copied BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning.

One day later, BLM Forester Kyle Johnson sent an email to the Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force saying the extension had been granted and the website would be updated. As of Dec. 16, the BLM NEPA webpage still says the environmental assessment comments are accepted from Dec. 5 until De. 16.

Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force consultant Mike Bader said the Missoula Board of County Commissioners was also planning on sending a letter requesting more time when the extension was granted. The commission is also considering submitting comments on the assessment.

Calls to the Commission weren’t returned by press time.

On Dec. 6, the BLM Missoula Field Office published an environmental assessment proposing thousands of acres of logging and thinning in an area dubbed the “Clark Fork Face” north of Interstate 90 approximately between Clinton and Drummond. The work is tentatively scheduled to begin in the spring and will likely continue through multiple contracts for about 10 years.

Most of the BLM work would occur around Anderson Hill and Union Peak. Within more than 19,000 acres of BLM land, the office would offer commercial timber contracts on almost 10,000 acres, do thinning on almost 1,500 acres and fuels management on almost 2,400 acres.

The BLM consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which concluded on Nov. 8 that the project would “affect and be likely to adversely affect” grizzly bears and lynx, both of which are protected under the Endangered Species Act. About 2.5% of the logging occurs in secure grizzly habitat.